It needs to be said that I’m not a fan of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ books or films. I’ve attempted to read the books a few times, but fiction just isn’t my thing. And as for the films, I've watched them all (deluxe extended editions) in one day side-by-side with my obsessed friend, and needless to say that’s one million hours... sorry, nine hours of my life I’ll never get back. I never even attempted ‘The Hobbit Trilogy’ after the 'LotR' debacle. So I think it fair to say that I entered ‘Tolkien’ unbiased.
We start our journey with a 12-year-old John Ronald Reuel Tolkien - who goes by Ronald - running around and sword-playing with his friends in the forests of Sarehole, England. He soon learns that he, his younger brother and mother are moving to Birmingham as they’ve fallen on hard times. Shortly after their arrival, Ronald’s mother dies and the boys, under the guardianship of Father Francis (Colm Meaney, ‘Get Him To The Greek’) are sent to live in a boarding house and attend the prestigious King Edward’s School. There, an already well-read and learned Tolkien excels further and makes steadfast friends in Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Wiseman. Together, they drink tea, vow to change the world through art, and call themselves the TCBS - the Tea Club and Barrovian Society. Then on to Oxford University, and older Tolkien (now Nicholas Hoult, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’) is struggling with the classics - that is until he discovers the philology department which taps into his love of languages. When WWI hits, Tolkien and his friends are sent into battle, where we find Lieutenant Tolkien suffering trench fever and desperately searching for his friend Geoffrey Smith. Throughout all of this is Edith (Lily Collins, ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’), a fellow boarder from his childhood whom he fell in love with, but after their relationship was deemed a distraction from his studies and was banned from pursuing her until he was 21.
It seems to me that so much of this film was dedicated to recreating the war scenes and paying lip service to the 'LotR' and 'Hobbit' fans that the actual story and cohesion of the film was lost. And the bloody trees... Far too much screen time was dedicated to trees! Yes, I get it, they’re an important feature in Tolkien’s writing, so much so they even walk and talk - but my god, do we need to see regular old trees that much? I also struggle to believe that while fighting to survive in a trench during WWI, Tolkien hallucinated fire-breathing dragons while mustard gas was passing overhead. There’s also a nice love story threaded throughout the film that packs about as much romantic punch as an actual punch. I started to wonder if director Dome Karukoski (‘Tom of Finland’) actually knows what love looks and feels like - and for the record Dome, it’s not a woman dancing in slow motion with a shawl in a forest.
If I took anything away from watching ‘Tolkien’ besides the fact that the filmmakers played fast and loose with timelines, it’s that I still love and adore Nicholas "I was almost Batman" Hoult (and also how to actually pronounce Tolkien - FYI, it’s Toll-keen. There, I just saved you an afternoon). I know we want to believe that the great literary works of our lives have these grand romantic journeys to fruition, but sometimes the brain just does wonderful things on the fly and in an instant like a dream (Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’), or being stuck on a train (J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’) or being high as a damn kite (Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’). Sure, we draw on life’s influences while fleshing out the whole tale, but to believe that these stories are with us for decades just waiting to get out is naïve. Not all great writers' lives are worthy of a film, and it seemed to me that the most intriguing story -that of Tolkien and Edith’s romance - was the most half-baked on film in favour of implementing fantasy elements at key moments that suggest inspiration. There were far too many baffling moments, and I was left wanting.
It seems to me that so much of this film was dedicated to recreating the war scenes and paying lip service to the 'LotR' and 'Hobbit' fans.
For the literary fans of Tolkien, this film will serve as a very exciting chapter of your fandom; when you get to see a character called Sam you'll be sure to gasp with glee - and let me assure you they really emphasise his name, along with a myriad of other moments just like it. You can’t miss them. They know who this movie is for, because it sure as hell won't be appealing to anyone else.